Remarks by Ambassador Amit Narang for Inter-School Model UN Assembly 2022 at Indian School Al Wadi Al Kabir

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Inter-School Model UN Assembly 2022

Indian School Al Wadi Al Kabir


October 30, 2022

Remarks by Ambassador Amit Narang

Principal, Indian School Al Wadi Al Kabir,

President and Members of the School Management Committee,

Delegates to the Model UN Assembly,

Dear Students,

Namaskar, Good morning.

I am delighted and honored to be present for the inauguration ceremony of the 8th edition of the Inter-School Model UN Assembly hosted by Indian School Wadi Kabir today.

My grateful thanks to the Principal and Management Committee for the invitation and also for kindly adjusting the date of this event to ensure I was able to attend. Deeply appreciate the kind gesture.

I am glad that the tradition of a model UN Assembly is being continued by Indian Schools in Oman and that this year, a physical Assembly has been convened after 2 years of hiatus.

Simulation of a UN Assembly is important for the students to learn and imbibe the essential skills of multilateral diplomacy. Even if they do not end up pursuing a career in diplomacy or political science, the skill sets necessary to excel in multilateral negotiations will stand the students in good stead in any and every career they end up choosing.

I would like to dwell a bit more on why multilateral diplomacy is an essential life feature of our times and – taking into account my own experience – leave you with 5 essential attributes of a good multilateralist.

But first a bit of context;

United Nations, as you are aware, was established in 1945. The objective of the founders was to find lasting a solution to the multiple wars and conflicts that plagued the world.

This was the proverbial ‘Parliament of Man’, a phrase made famous by the eponymous book by Paul Kennedy but taken from ‘Locksley Hall’, a work written in 1837 by English poet Alfred Tennyson. A few lines of Tennyson’s imagination of ‘Parliament of Man’ deserve recounting.

He wrote, and I quote:

Till the war-drum throbb’d no longer, and the battle –flags were furl’d

In the Parliament of man, the Federation of the world;

There the common sense of most shall hold a fretful realm in awe,

And the kindly earth shall slumber, lapt in universal law.”

Two important things about the United Nations need to be kept in mind.

First, it was created to prevent the problem of frequent and increasingly global and lethal wars, and promote global cooperation. And second, that it was set up by the victors of the 2nd world war, with the resulting anachronistic structure that persists to this day.

The United Nations therefore sought to maintain a delicate balance.

Balance between sovereignty and internationalism; balance between great power dominance and equality of all States; and balance between idealistic pursuit of common interests and cold-blooded reality of political power.

Has it succeeded in its aims and objectives?

The purpose of our discussion today is not to debate the success or failure of the UN. And clearly the record has been mixed, at best.

But suffice it to say that a global multilateral organization is an essential platform for our times. If it didn’t exist, we would have to invent it. And even if the record of the UN has been patchy and its successes partial, it has engendered a culture of collective cogitation that must form the basis of global action. This is no mean feat and its significance should not be underestimated.

Today, multilateral or plurilateral diplomacy is a reality and a multitude of international organizations and groupings exist to promote dialogue and cooperation – some geographical, some political and some topical.

A for ASEAN, B for BRICS, C for CICA..

Indeed the alphabet soup of multilateral organizations and groupings would easily cover the entire English alphabet many times over.

The proliferation of such platforms makes clear two things.

First, as our world has become more and more inter-connected, collective discussion and collaborative action is seen to be the only way forward. The challenges we confront today – be it climate change, data protection and privacy, maritime exploration and security or even transnational crime – cannot be tackled by national action alone and must necessarily be based on a global approach.

Second, the future generations – that is all of you delegates of the Model Assembly and your peers – who will be called upon to find solutions to the global challenges must be conversant with the skills to indulge in open dialogue and consultations and, more importantly, to convert the skill to dialogue to one that can translate dialogue into actionable change.

It is in this context that I said earlier that the skills of multilateral diplomacy must be an important part of your intellectual quiver.

Skills that enable you to convert ‘Arguments to consensus’ as the theme for this year’s Assembly puts it.

I would like to place before you, what I think are 5 key attributes of a successful multilateral diplomat.

But before I get into those, permit me to briefly detail my own journey in multilateralism. Since that story is rather long, l would like to take you quickly through the story of the SDGs.

In year 2012, I found myself in Rio de Janeiro along with 12,000 other delegates from world over in an attempt the convert the promises of the Rio Earth Summit of 1992 into actionable commitments. Rio+20 mandated the negotiation of a set of Sustainable Development Goals or SDGs along the lines of the Millennium Development Goals or the MDGs. No one knew however, the shape, size, structure, form or nature of what everyone agreed we should have.

Next year, serendipitously, I found myself in New York as the General Assembly set up a 30-member group to give shape and size to the Rio+20 vision. Right place at the right time as you would say. Or perhaps as multilateralists of New York would put it, right place at the wrong time!

In the OWG, we found ourselves sharing our Asia Group seat with Sri Lanka and Pakistan – unlikely bed-fellows in an uncertain process. The OWG was miraculously successful though, and in a period of 18 months managed to produce a set of 17 proposed SDGs and 169 targets, that were later consolidated into the 2030 Agenda by the General Assembly and adopted with acclamation in the Leaders Summit in September 2015.

A remarkable process that led to a remarkable result.

Why was it so significant?

For the first time ever, the world community – all 193 members of the United Nations – agreed on a common agenda for sustainable development, building upon the MDGs, taking them to zero and affirming the central priority of ending poverty. SDGs were not about environmental action alone, placing equal emphasis on social and economic pillars with specific goals on energy, gender, education and equality among others.

For the first time ever, the ‘how’ of the agenda – means of implementation in UN jargon - were included at the same level as the actions. The agenda was truly universal, applying equally to developed as well as developing countries, yet at the same time preserving the principles of equity and differentiation.

That India was able to play a major role in this process and translate the vision of our political leadership into the final result, remains a matter of pride and satisfaction.

That the world was able to agree on such a vast agenda was an achievement that should not be underestimated.

Remember that the much-limited in scope MDGs were never negotiated, they were agreed among a set of select few officials.

In a world where we often hear of the failure of the UN to craft agreements on global issues, the 2030 Agenda stands out as a positive example. No one who was involved in the process will suggest that this was a perfect document. Indeed when 193 member states negotiate, perfection is not a value you chase. But in its scope, depth, vision and ambition, the SDGs remain a bright spot. A success that shows that global agreement may be difficult, but it is possible.

You will often hear that multilateralism doesn’t work that all this that you are doing is a mere talk-shop. I wanted to share with you an example when it did.

As Nelson Mandela famously said, it always seems impossible…until it is done.

Dear delegates,

This brings me to my last point.

The 5 essential attributes that you must cultivate if you want to succeed in the world of multilateral discussion or diplomacy.

First, is the ability to listen.

You will assume that the most important skill to cultivate is that of speaking or oration. Yes, speaking well is obviously important, to be able to convey your point clearly, succinctly and convincingly.

But I will posit to you that even more important and often less emphasized is the ability to listen to those who hold an opposing viewpoint. Not least because it enables you to sharpen your own argument, responding to the concerns of the other side. An ability to listen also lends you an ability to be more empathetic, to be able to appreciate the counter points better. Each of us brings to the table our own national positions, and there is no absolute right or absolute wrong. An ability to listen also allows you to bridge the divide and make the debate less contentious and more constructive.

Second, your own intellectual credibility on the floor is very important.

Serious debates require serious debating. So spend time familiarizing with the topics beforehand. No one wants to engage with someone who waxes eloquent with shallow knowledge. On the other hand, if you can establish subject authority, you will surely be taken more seriously by your colleagues.

Diplomacy is as much about speaking well as it is about in-depth domain knowledge. This is especially true today as you discuss issues such as climate change, data privacy, space, oceans, nuclear disarmament etc that require deep technical know-how.

Spend time doing your homework before you take the floor.

Third, personal relations and friendships on the floor are critical.

Each of your colleagues may represent a different country or a different constituency, but remember that you are still surrounded by fellow human beings. Learn to say hello to the people around you. Talk to the delegates personally even if they hold opposing opinions. Be nice, be polite, make friends. Develop trust.

Being a good human being is as important on the floor of the multilateral debate as it is outside. It also helps making the discussions more constructive and productive.

Fourth, always seek common ground.

It is almost impossible to simply convert the other side to your views. Negotiation is not about trying to get the other side to agree to your viewpoint, as much as it is about finding a middle path, which both sides can live with. This is of course easier said than done. What you are looking for in a negotiation is not success in getting your point validated – good of you if you can do so – but achieving a compromise that you and the others can both live with.

Fifth, multilateral diplomacy is hard work.

From sitting hours at end in windowless rooms to sustaining processes that can last years, it tests your patience, your resilience and your intellectual stamina. Learn to be patient. Train to concentrate. Practice to sustain.

I have no doubt that participation today and tomorrow in this model UN Assembly will give you a first hand experience of multilateral diplomacy and make you familiar with the do’s and don’ts of collective discussion.

I have also no doubt that you will go forth and apply the lessons learnt in the career paths you choose ahead, and make a difference to a world that is in desperate search for peace, progress and sustainability.

In that task you have my good wishes. I hope the limited points I was able to share with you will be useful to you.

Best wishes and thank you for your patience.